Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Google Translate now covers over 99% of the online population

In 2016 Google Translate expanded its language translation coverage to more than 100 languages. This week in the Brigham Young University Family History Library, I was helping a patron with some German research. She found some documents in German and was puzzling over them. I pulled out my iPhone and went to the Google Translate app and turned on the camera usage and held the iPhone up to the computer screen and was soon reading all of the German instantly translated into English. It is always surprising when a new technology suddenly becomes useful and it is only a small step to when it become indispensable.

Digital Public Library of America agrees to collaboration with Library of Congress

In an announcement dated 29 November 2016, the Library of Congress has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Digital Public Library of America (DP.LA) to become a “content hub partner” and will ultimately share a significant portion of its rich digital resources with DPLA’s database of digital content records. Quoting from the announcement:
The first batch of records will include 5,000 items from three major Library of Congress maps collections—the Revolutionary War (, Civil War ( and panoramic maps collections (
As the announcement further indicates,
Library of Congress items already appear in the DPLA database. Earlier in this decade, the Library digitized more than 100,000 books in its collections as part of its membership in the Hathi Trust and the Biodiversity Heritage Library, both current partners with the DPLA. As a result, those books are already in the DPLA’s collections through those partners.
Currently, the Digital Public Library of America has over 14 million items from a variety of sources. Earlier this year, announced that its digital book collections would become searchable on the Digital Public Library of America's website also. Here is an explanation of the website:
The Digital Public Library of America, the product of a widely shared vision of a national digital library dating back to the 1990s, was launched with a planning process bringing together 40 leaders from libraries, foundations, academia and technology projects in October, 2010 followed by an intense community planning effort that culminated in 2013. Its aim was to supersede the silo effect many digitization efforts were subject to. Based in Boston, the board of directors includes leading public and research librarians, technologists, intellectual property scholars, and business experts from across the nation. Its goal is to create “an open, distributed network of comprehensive online resources that would draw on the nation’s living heritage from libraries, universities, archives, and museums in order to educate, inform, and empower everyone in current and future ­generations.”

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Family Tree Maker apparently alive and well

One of the big genealogical news stories of the past year was the abandonment of the popular genealogy program, Family Tree Maker, by Ancestry initially announced that sales of the program would be discontinued and ultimately by December 31, 2016, support for the program and the ability to sync with an online family tree would end. However, just before RootsTech 2016, announced that it had purchased the rights to the program and that support and sales would continue.

I recently received the above notice in the form of an email. Here is a more complete copy of the statement from the image above:
As it gets closer to the end of 2016, we're understandably hearing this question a lot. After all, it was initially announced that there would be no Family Tree Maker support after the end of next month. But that was a million years ago back in December 2015 when it was also announced that the brand wouldn't continue at all. All that changed 7 weeks later on February 2nd of this year — the day Ancestry announced that they'd decided after all to sell this wonderful old brand to us. And that together we would be building on what Ancestry had started, including creating a new sync technology together. 
So relax. TreeSync® will not stop working at the stroke of midnight this December 31st. And though it will be retired at some point in the not too distant future, before that happens, there will be new syncing technology available to replace it. It's already well into development and we will be starting outside beta testing in the next few weeks. And that means syncing as we know it for FTM is going to live on into 2017 and beyond. So if you've been worried about what happens at the end of the year, well you can just stop worrying. Syncing, Search, and Shaky Leaf hints are all here to stay.
Acquisition and upgrades to the program are available as follows:

As you probably know, we have published updated versions of Ancestry's latest editions which we call FTM 2014.1 and Mac 3.1. You can find out how to get a copy below. Where you go depends on what Family Tree Maker edition you currently have: 
• Users of FTM 2014 and Mac 3 - Free updates are coming soon. If your copy is working well, just hang in there and sign up for the FTM Mailing List at www.familytreemaker.comto be notified as soon as the updates are available. If, however, you are experiencing crashes or the application has slowed to a crawl with really large trees, see “What About That Free Update” below to find out how to get an interim update sooner. 
• Users of older FTM editions - No matter how old your copy of FTM is, or whether it's running on Windows or Mac, you can download an upgrade for $29.95 (vs. $69.95 regular price). Click here to take advantage of this limited-time upgrade offer today. You'll also be presented with an option to purchase a hard copy on CD ($10) or our new natural wood USB drive pictured above ($14). 
• New users - If you have never owned a copy of Family Tree Maker before, you can download a full edition from our online store for $69.95 by going to and clicking the Store button. You can purchase a download with or without a hard copy on CD or on a USB drive. And on startup, you'll get an offer for a 14-Day free trial you can use to search all US records on

Reclaim the Records files suit for Missouri Birth and Death Indexes

An interesting phenomenon for genealogists is the fact that many governmental agencies and other organizations restrict access to basic genealogically relevant records without any discernable reason or justification. Sometimes these restrictions are even in violation of the existing laws requiring Freedom of Information or the so-called "Sunshine Laws." One genealogically oriented organization called or Reclaim the Records, is trying to do something about this rather obnoxious situation.'s latest efforts are directed at the State of Missouri's birth and death records. Here is the explanation of the current action from the group's website:
In Missouri, death certificates that are more than fifty years old (i.e. pre-1965) are considered open to the public. But Missouri currently does not have a basic genealogical index available to the public for deaths that occurred in the state after 1965. In early 2016, we discovered that Missouri’s state Vital Statistics law actually may allow for the publication of basic death index data, even though they have not done so in the past. So in February 2016, we filed a request under the Missouri Sunshine Law to get that Missouri state death index released to the public. And in November 2016, that request turned into a lawsuit.
 More information about the process of public record requests, including the Missouri case, can be found on

Monday, November 28, 2016

Where in the world do you need to research your ancestry?

For many years as I have helped patrons first in the Mesa FamilySearch Library and most recently at the Brigham Young University Family History Library, I have been asked about doing research in different countries around the world. I have also noticed that most of the other volunteers (including missionaries) when confronted with questions about an unfamiliar area of the world, have declined to help and told the patron to find someone who knows about that particular area or country. The volunteer or missionary could be a very competent genealogical researcher but when confronted with something outside of their comfort zones, they defer to the "experts." This genealogical nearsightedness even extends to different areas of the same country. I have heard other volunteers decline to help when asked about research in the southern part of the United States or even in New England.

Now it is true that the professional level certification or accreditation organizations have areas of focus. For example, you can get accredited in a specialized expertise in a specific region of the world. In all most all cases, this level of expertise involves years of intense research experience. Is that what the average patron in a library or Family History Center is looking for? Maybe or maybe not. Perhaps all they are looking for is some help to get started.

Instead of considering a genealogical question about some place in the world you know little or nothing about, how about considering the question as a challenge to expand your own knowledge and learn a little bit more about the world? Genealogy is genealogy and doing research is doing research. It really doesn't matter all that much about the topic or the geographic region of the world. What really matters is answering some basic questions about the particular area or subject matter in question.

Yesterday, I was asked by a lady at church if I could help her with doing some genealogical research in Vietnam. Now, I do not speak or read Vietnamese. I do not know much about the records that may or may not be available, but I do know how to do research and in an hour or so, I compiled the following list of Vietnamese genealogical resources:
My friend was educated in Vietnam and I assume she speaks and reads the language. I may well be that what I have found so far is not enough to help her find her ancestors. That may take communicating with the record repositories in the country or existing relatives. This is true about any country of the world where the records are not readily available online. Do I now know enough to help this lady with her research? Absolutely. In fact, had she walked into the Library and I had been asked to help her, we could have found most of this information in a few minutes of searching by just looking at the Research Wiki.

Certainly, there are areas in the world where finding ancestral records is a real challenge, but that challenge does not need to start with the experienced genealogical researchers brushing off questions about places they know little or nothing about. Why not answer these inquiries with something like this:
I don't know a lot about that country, but I do know that there are some online resources that we can look at. Why don't we sit down here at a computer and look at the Research Wiki and some of the other resources that are available?
 Maybe we could all take the same attitude about our own research. If we don't know how to do something, we can look for books, classes or online references about the subject. I haven't known a lot about Irish research. But I do have Irish ancestors so I have been reading Irish history and learning about the records. I may never be considered an "Irish Genealogy Research Expert" but I can start searching for my own records and probably help someone else with their research.

Oh, by the way, what about the language barrier? Here is the name of a book recommended for Vietnamese research: "Gia phá: kháo luân và thú hành. Hanoi: Nha Xuat Ban Van Hua, 1992." Now, if Google Translate cannot help me, where do I go? Well, in a matter of a few seconds, I found about six or seven online Vietnamese to English translation programs and there is always, Tu dien anh viet, which translated is "English - Vietnamese Dictionary. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Genealogy Essentials:

Long ago and far away, I began investigating the strange and fascinating online world of Bulletin Boards and ListServs. I had access to the network as an employee of the Maricopa Community College System and took the opportunity to sit in the libraries of the community colleges where there were terminals open for students and staff. I soon saw the value of the universe of information that opened up to me as I literally crawled around the world online for the first time.

Fast forward to today. Startlingly, there are still vestiges of the old BBS online in the form of forums and blogs. For genealogists whose ancestry comes from the British Isles, there is the Forums and Blogs. The idea of a Forum is to provide a place where interested people can gather online and share questions, inquiries, and answers. The analogy is to a physical bulletin board where people post notices and communicate back and forth. An inquiry or question may start a new "thread" or series of related discussion items. You will likely have to register with the Forum before you are allowed to post an inquiry or a response. Some of the topics on the Forum include the following:

  • Acronyms and Abbreviations
  • Brickwalls
  • British Census
  • Certificates - Birth, Marriages, and Deaths in the UK
  • DNA Research
  • Family History Societies
  • Genealogy Beginners
  • General Family History Queries
The list of topics goes on and on. Some of the threads have posts in the thousands, for example, the thread "Jewish Roots" currently has 5,280 posts. In addition, each of the counties in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales have sub-forums and this also includes the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. There are also forums for Australia, Canada, Europe, India, New Zealand, South Africa, USA, West Indies and the Rest of the World. 

The list of forums also includes private forums for Family History Societies and forums on software and computing. There are presently 72,710 threads with 499,036 posts and 62,843 members.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Handling Massive Data: The Genealogical Challenge

Recently, we were challenged by two major electronic events. The first was that my wife's computer, an older Apple iMac, finally got so bogged down as to be almost unusable. What happens with computers is that as they are used, the hard drives fill up with unusable junk. Sometimes bits and pieces of programs and files that slow down the operation of the computer. Also, the operating system and other programs on the computer are being constantly upgraded or at least they should be. The upgrades often come in response to the development of faster, more powerful computers. Eventually, the new operating system is slowed down by the older computer chips. All of this probably goes unnoticed to the average user, especially those who are still operating an old PC with Windows Vista or some such.

When you are working for extended periods of time on a computer, this creeping slowdown finally reaches a breaking point. Some people simply stop using their computer. We don't have that option. We have learned to go out and buy a new computer and start the process all over again. For a while, the new computers solve the slow down problem and transferring all the data addresses the fragmented program problems. The newer operating systems then take advantage of the new processors and everything about the computer speeds up and life is good.

One issue that continues to plague genealogists who are using computers extensively, is the vast amount of data that accumulates from scanned documents, photos, notes, and a myriad of other stuff that goes along with research. Over time, I have had to move to larger and larger capacity storage devices and migrating the data from one device to another is a constant battle. Fortunately, the price of the new storage continues to drop. The latest hard drives are 8 Terabytes and cost only $179.

Another challenge was that the 12-volt battery in our Prius V died. When that happened in the past with regular non-hybrid cars, all you had to do was jump the battery and charge it for a while or get a replacement. When the Prius battery dies, the car goes dead. You can't even open the rear hatch to get to the battery which is in the back of the car. Well, all turned out easily fixed. In fact, it was the easiest battery change I have ever done in my life and I have changed out a lot of batteries over the years. How did I know what to do with the dead battery? I looked on of course and watched a couple of videos on how to change out the battery and open the back hatch.

Back to the data movement. As we transition to a new computer, we realized that we were still scanning documents and the accumulation had now reached monumental proportions. We decided we needed to make sure all of the documents were on both my computer's hard drives and on my wife's hard drives. So I ordered a new 8 TB hard drive and began the process of transferring the data; over 700,000 files. That process is going on now, for the second day, and will likely take over two days to make the complete transfer.

So what do we do with all that data? The scanned images need to be identified. The photos need to be tagged and uploaded to the appropriate people in the Family Tree and the duplicates need to be deleted. All that has to take place between two separate computers. The first step is consolidating all of the data on my wife's computer with that on mine on one hard drive. Then using that hard drive we will create a "working file" for all the documents we are currently working on identifying. Then we will move the completed files to a "completed file folder." The huge amount of working space on the 8 TB drives makes this all possible. We will likely incorporate online storage in the process also. What we feel is appropriate will be added to the Family Tree.

This whole process becomes a background to all the other activities we are involved in from day to day. All of our changes are constantly being backed up to other backup hard drives or to the internet in cloud storage programs.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Indexing for families by families with Kindex

From time to time, I have been watching the development of the program for doing document transcriptions and personal or family genealogical indexing. The program provides a straightforward way to transcribe documents from the Memories section and then you can add the transcription either as a story or as a new document. Since I last wrote about the program, it has developed additional features and is definitely becoming more useful. You can sign into the program with your FamilySearch login and password and then you get a personalized screen such as this:

There are still some issues, but they are minor. When you go to "transcribe" a photo, you can write a narrative but tagging has yet to be implemented. Transcribing, makes the content of the image useful for searching, just as is intended by the Indexing program of FamilySearch. However, your own documents and photos are not searchable as images, hence the need for a personal indexing program.

For example, this is a photo of a grave marker for my Great-grandfather. Unless I indicate what is on the grave marker, the image is not searchable by his name. In addition, the program allows for collaboration between family members who can work on the same documents from

Once I have transcribed the grave marker, the document in this case, the transcription then goes into my Kindex Archive.

If I wished to do so, I could copy the text and then click on View Original and add the text as a comment to the original. Right now, there is a limitation on editing any images or documents that I personally did not submit to Memories. This severely limits the ability of family members to actually edit the items in the Memories section. So, having a place to add and store the additional information about the images is important. It would be helpful if FamilySearch allowed me to add information to the images uploaded by others.

This is a good program to watch and use and will undoubtedly get better.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The kindred of such ancestor's blood

In searching for our ancestors, genealogists make a lot of assumptions. Most of these assumptions are based on our personal, cultural and linguistic traditions. From time to time, these traditions clash with our personal prejudices and the goals we wish to achieve because of those prejudices. In the United States, from time to time, some of our genealogical conventions are challenged in the court system. One such case was decided by the Supreme Court of Washington back in 1964 and is cited as follows:

In re Kurtzman's Estate, 396 P. 2nd 786, 1964 (Wash: Supreme Court)

The wording of one of the footnotes to this case caught my attention. Here is the wording of the footnote as it quotes one of the statutes of the State of Washington:
RCW 11.04.020(6). "If the decedent leaves no issue, nor husband, nor wife, and no father nor mother, nor brother, nor sister, the estate must go to the next of kin, in equal degree, excepting that when there are two or more collateral kindred in equal degree, but claiming through different ancestors, those who claim through the nearest ancestor must be preferred to those claiming through an ancestor more remote." (Italics ours.)
The reference to "RCW 11.04.020(6)" is to the Revised Code of Washington, Title 11 Probate and Trust Law, Descent and distribution, Section 020 (6) which has apparently been amended and is now RCW 11.04.015 which reads as follows:
Descent and distribution of real and personal estate.
     The net estate of a person dying intestate, or that portion thereof with respect to which the person shall have died intestate, shall descend subject to the provisions of RCW 11.04.250 and 11.02.070, and shall be distributed as follows:
     (1) Share of surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner. The surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner shall receive the following share:
     (a) All of the decedent's share of the net community estate; and
     (b) One-half of the net separate estate if the intestate is survived by issue; or
     (c) Three-quarters of the net separate estate if there is no surviving issue, but the intestate is survived by one or more of his or her parents, or by one or more of the issue of one or more of his or her parents; or
     (d) All of the net separate estate, if there is no surviving issue nor parent nor issue of parent.
     (2) Shares of others than surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner. The share of the net estate not distributable to the surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner, or the entire net estate if there is no surviving spouse or state registered domestic partner, shall descend and be distributed as follows:
     (a) To the issue of the intestate; if they are all in the same degree of kinship to the intestate, they shall take equally, or if of unequal degree, then those of more remote degree shall take by representation.
     (b) If the intestate not be survived by issue, then to the parent or parents who survive the intestate.
     (c) If the intestate not be survived by issue or by either parent, then to those issue of the parent or parents who survive the intestate; if they are all in the same degree of kinship to the intestate, they shall take equally, or, if of unequal degree, then those of more remote degree shall take by representation.
     (d) If the intestate not be survived by issue or by either parent, or by any issue of the parent or parents who survive the intestate, then to the grandparent or grandparents who survive the intestate; if both maternal and paternal grandparents survive the intestate, the maternal grandparent or grandparents shall take one-half and the paternal grandparent or grandparents shall take one-half.
     (e) If the intestate not be survived by issue or by either parent, or by any issue of the parent or parents or by any grandparent or grandparents, then to those issue of any grandparent or grandparents who survive the intestate; taken as a group, the issue of the maternal grandparent or grandparents shall share equally with the issue of the paternal grandparent or grandparents, also taken as a group; within each such group, all members share equally if they are all in the same degree of kinship to the intestate, or, if some be of unequal degree, then those of more remote degree shall take by representation.
Sometimes I feel it is almost amusing to hear various genealogists, when teaching classes or helping those less experienced, advising their students to "search the probate records." The fact situation in the Kurtzman's Estate case is an illustration of the origin of my amusement.
At the time of his death H.A. Kurtzman was the owner of 1,499 shares of the capital stock of the James Henry Packing Company and of certain furniture, all of which had been bequeathed to him by his aunt, Sophia Braman Henry, his mother's sister. 
Decedent, who died intestate, was not survived by spouse, issue, parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, grandparents, uncles or aunts, nor was he survived by any kindred of the half blood. He was survived by nine paternal first cousins (respondents) who are of the fourth degree of kinship, all descendants of his paternal grandparents (the Kurtzman blood line); and (b) by two maternal first cousins once removed (appellants) who are of the fifth degree of kinship, descendants of his maternal grandparents (the Braman blood line). Sophia Braman Henry, who bequeathed the specific property in question to decedent, was the great aunt of appellants and their grandmother by her adoption of their mother.
The discussion of the Court in this case is an involved discussion of the grammar of the now-superseded statute. The issue here is who gets the property.

From a genealogical standpoint, you can probably see that the analysis of the Court is valuable genealogical information. But guess what? Searching the probate court cases in Washington would probably not provided this clarification of the relationships, especially the reference to the fact that of the adoption of the "great aunt."

Here, the State of Washington has an extremely extensive online digital collection. I was able to find a copy of 1910 U.S. Census Record that shows a Henry A. Kurtzman, as a child.

Database: 1910 Federal Census. ONLINE. 2003 and updated 2007. Washington Secretary of State. Transcribed and Proofread by the Washington State Genealogical Society. 

Source: 13th census, 1910, Washington [microform]. Washington, D.C.: Micro-Film Lab., Bureau of Census, [195-?] 1 microfilm reel; 35 mm. 
Without belaboring the point, there are a multitude of leads in this court case to other records that should be available about this family. It might even be possible to find a probate record. But there are several points to be made here.

First, can you read the statutes cited above and tell me what they mean? This is the kind of language that takes someone who wants to become an attorney a considerable effort to understand.

Next, can you understand the explanation of the relationships described by the Court and did you pick up the reference to an adoption?

I could go on, but my purpose in writing about this subject is that genealogy is, by its nature, a complex and very detail oriented persuasion. Just as going to law school is not for those who do not want to spend a great deal of time reading and studying, genealogy requires an understanding of many different disciplines and the terminology used by lawyers, doctors, historians, government agencies and many other sources of records. But even more important is the fact that this law case, which I readily found through using Google Scholar, contains some valuable information possibly previously unknown to the genealogical researcher and this may be the only place where this particular information is recorded in such detail. How many of us as genealogists think to search court records beyond simply looking for a probate record?

There are many lessons to learn from this example.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Overlaying historical maps on Google Earth and other programs

The map above shows a portion of an 1889 map of Utah published by Rand McNally and Company overlaid on a current map. This map was created using the David Rumsey Map Collection tool called the Georeferencer. See

The process of overlaying historic maps on current maps or satellite views of the earth has been rapidly developing with the advent of GPS coordinate systems and computers with enough memory and processing speed to create such maps almost instantly. Why would a genealogist want to overlay an old map on a current one? The answer to that question really involves a consideration of the amount of the involvement of any individual genealogical researcher in complex research questions. Map overlays are sophisticated tools for resolving some difficult questions usually concerning identifying an elusive ancestor. However, it is important that all genealogical researchers know about this process so that if and when they are faced with a situation that can be resolved by resort to map overlays, they will realize that this is even an option.

The events in our lives and our ancestors' lives are all associated with specific geographic locations on the earth. Any records that might exist about those events are also either specifically or generally associated with those same locations. One of the challenges of genealogical research is identifying the location of those events with enough particularity to help in finding the pertinent records and further, help in differentiating our ancestors with common names from all of the others with the same or similar names.

There are presently several ways to view maps through overlays and some of these ways include timelines that allow you see the changes in the maps over time. The first of these is the Unites States Geological Survey's National Map. See This website is a fabulous resource for finding and exploring both the present and past in maps.

One of the many valuable resources on this particular webpage is the Historic Topographic Maps. This part of the website lets the user view a set of historic maps with a slider that overlays the maps for a particular place and see the changes over time. This program is called TopoView. See

You choose the location you wish to view from a large map of the United States.

You zoom in to see the individual maps that are available for that area.

In this case, there are multiple maps available. You can view the individual maps or any set of maps in various views. Detailed information about how the program works is shown in this video.

Overlaying the maps is done with the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer. See

You can then use the maps along the bottom individually or in sets to see them in layers that can be adjusted by the sliders under each map. The maps are interactive and you need to explore the controls to see all the functions.

Using the Newberry Atlas of Historic County Boundaries, (See you can view the boundary changes of every county in the United States over time overlaid on Google Earth. You need to have downloaded Google Earth and then go to the Newberry Atlas of Historic County Boundaries website and choose a state to view.

I clicked on Pennsylvania.

At the bottom of the page, I further selected the link to "Download the KMZ File for use with Google Earth." The KMZ file is a special file containing the historical boundary information from the Atlas that will be able to be viewed on Google Earth. The KMZ files usually downloads as a Zip file. Click on the Zip file to open it and then drag the icon for the file onto your icon for Google Earth or you can open the file from the menu in Google Earth.

Here is a screenshot of how the file appears in Google Earth.

You may have to unclick several of the viewing options in Google Earth to get a clearer view. There is a slider in the upper left hand corner of the screen and you can use that to see the boundary changes. You can zoom in on the image to see the changes down to the house level in Google Earth. You can use this to view exactly where your ancestor's land was located in reference to all the historic boundary changes.

Next, here is one example of using a map overlay program to overlay an historic map over a current satellite view. There are several programs that can do this including a limited link in Google Earth. You can search for "overlay historic maps google" to find a long list of options.

Above I have an example of a map overlay using the David Rumsey Historical Map Collection's Georeferencer. See The program itself contains detailed step-by-step instructions about the process.

You can see the results in the first image above.

Another website for overlaying maps is the New York Public Library's Map Warper. See

Again, you will find detailed instructions on the website for overlaying the maps on the "rectified" view. Here is a copy of a map as shown on the rectified view. You will have to sign up for an account and login to view the maps. This process may take some time depending on your computer and the speed of your connection to the internet. You can then vary the opacity of the image with a slider. Most of these programs must be experienced to fully understand how they work.

This entire process is not just a toy, it provides valuable historical information that can be used by genealogists to located their ancestors' events with enough specificity to find additional records about their lives.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Focusing your genealogical research with clustering

Clustering is probably not a familiar term to most genealogists. Cluster research is a methodological system devised to identify an elusive ancestor based on expanding the focus of a search to a broader area either geographic or by subject and then doing more research to eliminate unlikely possibilities until the remaining individual or appears as the only possible correct choice.

Because this is a complicated topic, it is only rarely mentioned in genealogical writings and almost never discussed in conferences or workshops. In a sense, it is the last resort for resolving very difficult genealogical "brick walls."  Surprisingly, there is a Wikipedia article on the subject entitled "Cluster genealogy." See However, the only contribution of the article to an understanding of the subject is the definition of a cluster:
A person's cluster consists of the extended family, friends, neighbors, and other associates such as business partners.
A relatively few genealogists, seemingly independently, develop techniques for advancing their research using the principles of clustering even when what they are doing is not identified with that term. I find the most coherent explanation for this method of research in a book published back in 1972 entitled as follows:

Jones, Vincent L, Arlene H Eakle, and Mildred H Christensen. Genealogical Research; a Jurisdictional Approach. Salt Lake City: Printed by Publishers Press for Genealogical Copy Service, Woods Cross, Utah, 1972.

This book was reprinted with the following unlikely title:

Jones, Vincent L, Arlene H Eakle, Mildred H Christensen, and Genealogical Institute. Family History for Fun and Profit. Provo, Utah: Printed by Community Press for the Genealogical Institute, 1972.

In these books, the basic concepts of cluster research are referred to as a "jurisdictional approach." The basic concept of the process, no matter what it is called, involves expanding your research to include all of the possible records in a particular "jurisdiction" or geographic area. Genealogically important or relevant records are created at or near the time of an event by individuals or entities that have an interest in the event or have a duty or obligation to record the event. As I have written many time before, these records pile up in jurisdictional levels, i.e. national records, state or provincial records, county or parish records, municipal or town records and personal records like pancakes in a stack. Each jurisdictional level creates its own unique records such as the following examples:
  • National level -- Military, tax, census, trade and commerce records
  • State or province --  In the U.S. these could be, depending on the time period, birth and death records or records created by state agencies such as court records
  • County or parish -- Can be birth, marriage and death records. In the U.S. also land and property records
  • Municipalities or towns -- Local school, church, fraternal organizations and other records
  • Personal records -- Diaries, Bibles, journals, letters etc.
Cluster research involves taking the routine searching of records and expanding the scope to include any possibly related individuals. I wrote about this about a year ago in a post entitled, "How does geographic clustering work?" See  This explanation focuses on geographic clustering but it could also be expanded to include other classifications of clusters based on other types of records. In this case geographic proximity is the chief factor in determining relationships, but other records sources such as fraternal organizations, church records, and other similar records can also be used to advantage. 

Some of the researchers who utilize cluster research use spreadsheets to compile information, others use maps and lists. Whatever personal method you use, the concept is the same: gathering a broad spectrum of information and then analyzing the information to separate individuals and hopefully, finally determining which of all possible candidates is the elusive ancestor. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Using Gazetteers to locate places on maps -- Part Two

One of the ongoing puzzles of genealogical research is the changing face of the world's places. Political and social forces around the world affect changes to boundaries, names and the inhabitants of the locations where our ancestors lived. Some of these changes are obvious such as the British Colonies in America becoming the United States of America. Other changes are not so obvious such as when a local school district is relocated or a county boundary adjusted. One example of this almost constant change from my own ancestry involves the partial consolidation of Huntingdonshire, an historical county in England into present day Cambridgeshire in 1976. Our concern about these changes stems from the fact that the sometimes seemingly random changes in all these jurisdictions affect how and where records are created and ultimately where they are presently located.

One reference to these continual changes is reflected by a section of the website for the United States Census Bureau or entitled, "Substantial Changes to Counties and County Equivalent Entities: 1970-Present." See

Although the U.S. Census has an overwhelming amount of information, genealogists will have to dig into the website to find historical data affecting the location of records. A simple illustration of the issue is determining where to find a record of the marriage an ancestor. It should be apparent that the record would have been made, if it was, at about the time of the marriage. The Research Wiki has a specific articles entitled, "How to Find United States Marriage Records" See with links to similar information about every state. But what about the situation where the place of the marriage is recorded in family Bibles, letters or diaries and the place no longer seems to exist or the records cannot now be located? This question can be extended to almost any event in an ancestor's life.

Gazetteers in all their forms are one key to unraveling these record location mysteries of the past. Historically, the names of various geographic locations and a description of the places were recorded in books. A search on, the largest online library based catalog, show over 63,000 books and other publications cataloged as gazetteers. These tranditional books are scattered in libraries all around the world. But today many. if not most, of these questions can be resolved using online searches.

Let's suppose that I found a reference to an event that took place in Feaster, Arizona. Where would I go to find such a location? The first place today would be to do a Google Search for the location. Here is a screenshot of such a search.

This brief search gives me a general location in Apache County, Arizona so I could immediately begin looking for records in that county and state. But perhaps my interest lies in locating the exact townsite or the location of my ancestor's home. You might note that the last entry here is to a Map and Directions. Here is another screenshot showing the location from the link,

What if I had started my search on Google Maps? I would have found the same location.

Immense amounts of historic geographic data have been incorporated into the large online mapping programs. Using Google Maps, I can switch to a satellite view and zoom in to look at the location.

Further locating the exact location of the ancestral homestead may require additional research in land and property records and resort to county parcel maps. Google Maps and MapQuest may not be classified as gazetteers, but they perform the functional equivalent today. Further information about this location may be available from books and doing a search in Google Books or one of the other online collections. Ultimately, your search may take you to university library special collections and other repositories for such an obscure location.

But what about searches in Europe? What if your ancestors came from the area now occupied by the Country of Poland? In this area of Europe, wars and boundary changes are extremely common and the names of the places have changed with the conquering countries from Polish to German to Russian and back to Polish, sometimes more than one time. Fortunately, there are readily available lists of the name changes. Here is one example of perhaps the most extensive reference website called

This is another example of an online gazetteer.

Solving geographic mysteries may end up being one of the most difficult parts of genealogical research. I spent about fifteen years, off and on, trying to location one of my Great-great grandfather's birthplace. I finally found the place recorded on an obscure marriage record. The only way to succeed in this regard is to be carefully persistent and keep learning and looking.

Read the previous post here:

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Jumpstart Your Family History in Ten Steps: Step Ten -- Start All Over Again

All of the previous nine suggestions for jumpstarting your family history depend entirely on one thing: actually starting to do something. So here is a list of activities that will help you get moving and get started. They are not in any particular order and you can certainly try more than one of them at a time if you have the energy and time to do so. From time to time, all of us who are interested in genealogy or family history need to start over and think through the things we need to remember to do. When I was working in my retail computer store, we used to ask each other almost daily, "What business are we in today?" The same might be said about the huge changes that are arriving almost daily that affect the way we do genealogy. Perhaps we too should ask ourselves what business we are in today?
  • Gather all your family documents and certificates and organize them into files or at least put them in order and in a place where you can access them easily. You might want to leave your home for some reason like a fire or other emergency very quickly and it is a good idea to have these documents available in a very short period of time. Then take the time to digitized all of them and back up the files online and on external hard drives.
  • Take some time and interview all of your older relatives. There are some of us that are so old that we are the older relatives, but it is still a good idea to talk to your relatives about their families. A bonus would be to obtain oral histories of any who would agree to talk to you.
  • Start now to plan to attend a major genealogy conference. You will at least have an interesting time meeting and talking with other interested genealogists from around the country and even from around the world. You need to be prepared with good comfortable walking shoes and pace yourself during the conference. 
  • Read a book on genealogy. Attend a class or teach one to someone else. Any involvement in education will provide immesurable benefits towards become more competent. 
  • If you feel challenged by your lack of computer skills, find a mentor or a tutor or both and take some time to focus and actually learn how to operate with the new technology. 
  • Visit an archive, library or other entity with a large genealogical collection. It is most helpful if you also have a mentor or professional to help you the first time, but reading up on the institution might do the trick. 
  • Start writing a blog online. This is a good way to find family members and contacts across the world. If you need an example of how a family-oriented blog should be, you can use for an example, although you might end up with something completely different. See "How to Start a Blog on Blogger" to get going. 
That ought to keep you busy for a while. 

Here are the posts in this series.

Jumpstart Your Family History in Ten Steps: Step Nine -- Start Reading or Attending Classes or Both

In our electronic based society today, perhaps we forget to read books for information. But even if you are glued to a computer or smartphone or tablet, you can find a lot of information about how to do genealogy. I think it is important enough that I need to start off this segment by reminding everyone about the resources in The Familly History Guide or This free, online reseource is a goldmine of information and instruction.

Most of my early orientation and training about genealogy came from books, that is, real books with paper and covers. Unfortunately, most local, public libraries have only a very few, token books about genealogy. They may have huge sections on woodworking or car repair, but only a dozen or so randomly selected books on genealogy. So, we are forced to go to larger libraries or acquire a few books from online sources. Even with the vast resources online, genealogy books do not tend to get offered in ebook editions. Over the years, I have acquired quite a collection of books about doing genealogical research that I think are helpful and during my early years in learning about genealogy, I read straight through quite a large pile of books. I used to go to the Brigham Young University Book Store (now called just "The Store") and browse through their textbook offerings for their genealogy classes. I would buy anything that looked interesting and read it from cover to cover.

I have posted a few lists of books in the past, but I think it is good idea to repeat a few more at this point to remind us all that these books are there and really do talk about things we all need to know about doing adequate genealogical research. The number one book on my list is still the following:

Greenwood, Val D. The Researcher’s Guide to American Genealogy. Baltimore, Md.: Genealogical Pub. Co., 1990.

Over the years, because of the vast changes due to computerization and the internet, this book would seem to have gone out of date, but it is still a reliable and valuable source for understanding the basics of how to find resources. You just have to realize while reading the book that many of the records Greenwood mentions are now available online from large and small websites.

Next, I would continue to recommend reading the following book and I am saying "read" the following book. To some this is like reading a directory, there isn't much of a plot, but the only way to begin to understand where records are located and how they are organized is to read this type of compilation. Here it is:

Szucs, Loretto Dennis, and Sandra Hargreaves Luebking. The Source: A Guidebook of American Genealogy. Provo, UT: Ancestry, 2006.

Technically, The Source is available online in digital format, but it is on a rather obscure website from that the company has largely ignored called the Ancestry Wiki, See The book is not set out as such, it is broken down into segments for reference. There are almost no contributors to this Wiki because Ancestry hardly ever mentions it and does not promote it at all, something that seems to be happening with the Research Wiki also.

The next book is available online in ebook format and I must admit that I did read it on my iPad and do refer to it from time to time for clarification of issues that arise about the history of genealogy as a pursuit. By the way, this is the only book I know of that actually tells a more or less complete history of how we got to where we are today in genealogy.

Weil, François. Family Trees: A History of Genealogy in America. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2013.

One thing you do have to remember when starting to learn about genealogical research is that most of the books and articles on the subject have been written either before computers became widely available or by people who have little or no background in technology. Even in some online sources, there is a decided emphasis on paper-based techniques and methodology. It will likely take some time for the "old guard" to retire and the new electronically based generation to be heard. I have been trying to bridge the gap between paper and the internet for some years now and I still read currently published articles that talk about using paper forms for genealogy. I simply do not have time to do the work twice. I cannot write it down on paper and then ultimately have to transfer it to a computer program.

For those who are acquainted with and work in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, you might want to read the following book. It is still available from several suppliers online from

Allen, James B., Jessie L. Embry, and Kahlile B. Mehr. Hearts Turned to the Fathers: A History of the Genealogical Society of Utah, 1894-1994. Provo, Utah: BYU Studies, Brigham Young University, 1995.
Of course, I need to mention Family History Centers sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its subsidiary, There are almost 5000 of these around the world. They are staffed by a virtual army of volunteers and vary from a single room in a local church building to elaborate libraries such as the largest genealogical library in the world, the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah. I also like to keep reminding everyone that the second largest such library is also located in Utah and is the Brigham Young University Family History Library on campus in Provo, Utah just 45 miles or so south of Salt Lake City.

There are several other large libraries that have substantial genealogical collections. These include some of the following with some repeat listings:
Now what about classes? There are a lot of very local and not-so-well-known or publicized conferences that go on every year. But there are also a few national level conferences that you might be able to attend. Both the U.S. and England have a major conference once a year. In England it is called "Who Do You Think You Are?" and will be held on April 5-8 in Birmingham, England. One of the main benefits that accrues from attending a really large conference is finding out there really are a few people out there who are doing genealogy.

Of course, we have a very large conference in the United States also in the form of RootsTech 2017 in the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah on February 8-11, 2017. This is a much newer conference than the one in England. There are hundreds of classes and other events going on and it is an exciting event.

The best and possibly only way to find out about a genealogy conference near you is to go online and search for "genealogy conference" and add your own state or province. When I did this for Utah, I found several events listed some of which are annual events.

Last, but not least, you may want to join a local genealogy society or group. When I was living in Mesa, Arizona, the local Maricopa County Library had a periodic genealogy coference and they had an interest group organized also. In addition, several of the retirement communities in the Salt River Valley had genealogy interest groups, some of which had classes and conferences. In addition, from time to time, some of the wards and stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints hold Family Discovery Days, although few of these are even locally publicized outside of the Church itself.

So now you are probably ready for the last step in jumpstarting your genealogy.

Here are the posts in this series.